Softball – AGA’s the Place to Be for Base Umpires


By Anthony “Corky” Carter

It is an awesome sight when you see two umpires working in tandem to make the right call on a close play when umpires correctly defer their call to a partner because they’re blocked out of the play or found themselves in a marginal position.

One play in slow pitch that often lends itself to help from your partner is when there is a runner on first and there’s a snap-back throw to first after a line drive to the pitcher, second baseman or shortstop. As the base umpire, that type of play usually occurs so quickly that you don’t have the opportunity or ability to move into position to get the proper angle as the runner is sliding or diving back into first.

Outstanding umpire teams have a pre-arranged set of mechanics to handle that difficult situation. The mechanics may be that the base umpire points to the plate umpire to make the call, verbally requests assistance, or they agree that the call at first will always be the plate umpire’s responsibility. Let’s face the fact that if the line drive is caught by the shortstop, there is no way to get an advantageous angle by moving toward the pitcher.

While it is acceptable to defer the call to the plate umpire in those three situations, many calls are often deferred to the plate umpire that were the base umpire’s responsibility. Why does that happen? A) The base umpire does not understand how to get into the proper position. B) The base umpire is too lazy to get into position. C) The base umpire doesn’t want to make the tough call. D) The base umpire wants the plate umpire to “take the heat” for the close call. E) All the above. The answer is E, although I’m being a bit facetious.

What’s happening most often is the base umpire is not positioning himself or herself in the Area of Greatest Advantage (AGA). Most of the time that occurs when there are multiple runners on base. Let’s start with the bases loaded and describe where the AGA is and its importance.  When there’s a hit to the outfield with the bases loaded, it’s “off to the races” for the runners and the base umpire. The error in mechanics that most often occurs is that the base umpire doesn’t get inside the diamond far enough (or not at all) and ends up being too close to second base or outside the diamond.

During the time when a runner is advancing to the plate, if the plate umpire cannot cover third base, the base umpire has the dilemma of making the call at third, second or first base. Once the ball is cut off by the shortstop or second baseman, it’s anyone’s guess to which base it will be thrown. If the base umpire errs by staying too close to second, he or she has lost the angle at both corners. That is why it is critical for the base umpire to immediately go to the AGA in preparation to make the call at any base. When he or she doesn’t get himself to the AGA, he or she is in a very poor position to make the calls that are his or her responsibility. Additionally, if the plate umpire has moved to third, the base umpire is out of position for the call at the plate.

Where is the AGA for the base umpire? It’s the exact center of the diamond. However, I’ll settle for the base umpire getting to anywhere inside a five-foot circle around the pitcher’s plate. If you work at getting yourself to that area you’ll find yourself making more correct calls with fewer arguments and fewer deferrals to your partner.

With runners on first and third, when a fly ball is hit to the outfield, many base umpires come inside the diamond only a few feet. If the base umpire has started out close to second base, that is where he’ll position himself inside the diamond, too close to second base, thinking this is a good place to make the call at second if the runner advances after the catch. However, if a throw from the cutoff man goes to the first baseman trying to retire the runner, the base umpire’s angle is atrocious. Asking for help from the plate umpire in that situation is a “cop-out” because the plate umpire is usually down the baseline toward third base and a runner will be crossing his or her line of vision. The catcher may also get between him or her and what can be seen at first base.

The preferred mechanic for the base umpire with the bases loaded? When the ball is hit to the outfield with multiple runners on base, move inside the diamond, keep your eyes on the flight of the ball and back your way to the AGA. That position provides an excellent angle to make a call at any base. By taking a couple of steps toward the base where the play is being made, you give the appearance of being closer to the play than you actually are.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 01/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Center on Partner, Reducing Stress


By Suzanne Dodd

“Centering” is a technique utilized by both first and second referees to communicate information after a play. Both referees should fully focus attention on their partner after each rally ends and before signaling the result of the rally. Why? To center with our partners ensures that pertinent information is communicated with each other. Whether we need to discreetly signal a fourth contact, request a warning to a player, or offer reassurance that a situation was handled appropriately, centering serves as a useful technique for both referees to employ.

But centering is a loaded term that means so much more than just looking at your partner after each play. To fully benefit from centering, it helps to understand the psychological implications of the term.

In psychology, centering is a concentration technique used to reduce anxiety and distracting thoughts. The process of centering involves breath control to reduce muscle tension, to block out negative thoughts and to re-focus attention on the match. Centering helps reduce the body’s physical and mental responses to stressful situations.

Physical reactions to stress include increased muscle tension, heart rate and respiration rate. Butterflies form in the stomach. You may begin to sweat more and feel a rush of adrenaline. That is the fight-or-flight response that prepares the body to confront the situation or to flee it as fast as possible.

Mental responses to stress include changes in attention, concentration and visual search patterns. For example, a volleyball referee who recognizes the critical nature of every point late in the fifth set may find his or her focus to be on both relevant matters, such as a setter’s position, and irrelevant matters, such as the crowd. Or the referee may devote attention to his or her own nerves and self-doubt rather than the play on the court. Those types of distractions can negatively impact performance and set the stage for an official to “choke.”

Centering helps to counter the stress response and re-focus attention on the relevant cues in the environment. That coping strategy is an excellent technique for managing the stress symptoms and shifting focus to the relevant performance tasks.

How to center. There is a physical component to centering, which involves a referee positioning himself or herself with both feet approximately shoulder width apart so that body weight is equally distributed. (If you doubt that, next time you work as first referee, try standing on one foot or on the balls of your feet during play. You will likely notice that your attention drifts from maintaining balance to fatigue in your lower legs, both unnecessary distractions.) But centering involves more than just a physical component. It also is a means of preparing the mind to focus on important cues, and it’s the mental component that makes it an excellent technique for coping with stress.

The psychological aspect of centering involves directing attention inward and then altering breathing patterns to induce relaxation. Taking a breath from the abdomen rather than the chest relaxes the neck and shoulders, making it easier to maintain a sense of calmness and control in a difficult situation.

The centering breath should occur between the end of a play and the beginning of the signal sequence of the play outcome. If that feels rushed, take the breath between signals at the end of a play and before initiating the next beckon for serve.

The final step of the centering process is to use a word or phrase that creates the relaxed physical feelings and mental focus necessary to maintain a sense of control. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried or as if you’re losing control, use a trigger word to bring yourself back in the moment. Think of a cue that helps you to focus positively in the present moment, not on a past or future play. Words like “focus,” “calm,” “control” and “I’m good” can all serve as triggers to keep you in the game.

Centering is also helpful in preventing bracing — the muscle tension experienced as a result of prolonged stress. When we anticipate stress — say you made a ballhandling call on a crucial play and you expect the coach to erupt — our body “braces” for the response. We may become rigid with anger or unable to move because of fear. The centering technique can prevent a difficult situation from spiraling out of control, and assist a referee in regaining confidence and re-focusing attention on the match.

Centering in practice. Centering may seem like an impractical technique to use during a match, however, with a little practice it can (and should!) become a normal part of your end-of-play routine. It’s a mental skill to be practiced just like any physical skill. And if you learn to recognize your personal physical and mental signs of stress, then having the centering technique to fall back on will help raise your game in difficult situations.

The next time your partner suggests you need to center more after each play, remember the full implications of that term. We know that we should make eye contact with our partners after every play. That helps in communication, but it’s so much more than that.

Centering helps us stay on the same page with our partner, but it also helps us control high levels of stress, reduce muscle tension and re-focus attention on relevant cues. If you’re able to master that simple skill, then you have a powerful tool to reduce errors, improve concentration and make the overall experience of officiating more enjoyable.

Suzanne Dodd, Greenville, S.C., is adjunct faculty at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C., in the Department of Kinesiology. She is a PAVO National volleyball referee and line judge and a USA Volleyball Junior National referee.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Catch as Catch Can


By George Demetriou

Acatch is the act of a fielder getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it. He may not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. However, in order to record an out with a catch, the fielder must be standing in the right spot. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.

Where it is. Whether a catch is allowed is not always as simple as the delineation between live-ball and dead-ball territory. That line could be a fence, rope, wire, railing or a chalk line, or it could be imaginary such as a fence-line extended, a creek edge or the start of an upslope. A line through the edge of parked cars is not unheard of in the annals of prep baseball. If there is a finite line, it is considered live-ball territory.

In NFHS play, a catch can be made as long as any part of a foot is touching live-ball territory. Thus a catch can be made with one foot in live-ball territory and one foot in dead-ball territory or one foot in live-ball territory with the other airborne. A catch can be made by an airborne fielder as long as the last foot left from live-ball territory. A catch after the fielder has established his position in dead-ball territory is not allowed (2.9.1C Cmt). Jumping on top of a railing or canvas that may be in foul ground is usually prohibited by ground rule.

Under NCAA and pro rules, a catch cannot be made with any part of the fielder’s body touching dead-ball territory (NCAA 6-1d1; pro 6.05a Cmt).

Play 1: B1 hits a foul pop fly.

When F9 catches the ball, he is straddling a line dividing live-ball from dead-ball territory. F9’s momentum then causes him to step with both feet into dead-ball territory. Ruling 1: NFHS: Legal catch. NCAA, pro: No catch; that is an uncaught foul ball.

Because demarcation lines are in live-ball territory, a fielder can make a catch if he has any part of his body, including a foot, touching such a line provided no portion of his body or foot is in contact with the ground beyond the line.

It’s also possible for a player to make a catch by launching himself to catch the ball while completely airborne and then landing in dead-ball territory.

In a July 1, 2004, game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter nearly did that. With two out and runners on second and third, Jeter ranged behind third base, caught a fair ball and took three steps before he went face first into the stands.

In all codes, a fielder may reach into a dugout, be held up and kept from an apparent fall by a player or players of either team and if the catch is made, it shall be allowed. If such a fielder is interfered with by an opponent, the batter is out and no runners may advance (NFHS 3-2-3; NCAA 6-1d AR 1; pro 7.11).

A fielder may also enter dead-ball territory and re-enter live-ball territory to make a catch. If he does that, he must comply with the requirements mentioned above. In NCAA and pro, he must get back into live-ball territory with no part of his body touching dead-ball territory, while in NFHS he need only get a foot down in live-ball territory.

Live or dead ball? Under NFHS rules, if a player makes a catch and enters (completely) into dead-ball territory, the ball is dead (5-1-1i). In NCAA and pro, the ball remains live unless the fielder falls (loses body control). However, if the fielder makes a legal catch and goes through or over an outfield fence, the ball is immediately dead even if the fielder lands feet first (NCAA 6-1d, 8-3m; pro 5.10f, 7.04c Cmt).

A player may stumble, lean on a dugout wall, be supported by players or spectators, or teeter on a railing without actually falling. If he intentionally slides or goes down to one or both knees, he has not lost body control. The ball remains in play and runners may advance at their own risk. A player’s status is a judgment call.

When the ball becomes dead after a catch, the batter is out and runner(s) advance one base.

Throws. If it is possible for a fielder to enter a dead-ball area and make a throw from there (NCAA and pro only), the ground rules should address whether such a throw is permissible. If the ground rules do not address that situation, a throw is allowed since the ball remains live unless the fielder falls or otherwise loses body control.

If the fielder drops the ball within the dead-ball area while in the act of throwing, the ball is dead and runners are awarded two bases from the time of the drop. If the ground rules prohibit a throw and require the fielder to enter live-ball territory before making a throw, and the fielder throws from dead-ball territory or drops it there, the ball is dead and runners are awarded one base.

Play 2: Near shallow right field, a marked line curves around the unprotected bullpen. With a runner on second, F9 catches B1’s line drive. R2 tags as the fielder’s momentum carries him across the line and into the dead-ball area, where he (a) throws to F4, his cutoff man, (b) runs into live-ball area before throwing, or (c) falls down attempting to throw. Ruling 2: NFHS: In either case, the ball is dead when F9 enters dead-ball territory; R2 is awarded third. NCAA, pro: In (a) and (b), the ball remains live. In (c), the ball is dead; R2 is awarded third.

George Demetriou, a resident of Colorado Springs, is the current NFHS rule interpreter for the state of Colorado.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 05/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Solid Stance – Gerry Davis Profile

(This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Referee Magazine.)

MLB Umpire Gerry Davis is known for his Plate stance, his officiating gear business and his professionalism ­­— and he’s worked the most postseason games of any current umpire.

By John Oehser

The honor hardly could be more fitting.

OK, perhaps having a behind-the-plate stance named after you — as Gerry Davis does — isn’t technically an honor. But it certainly speaks volumes about one of Major League Baseball’s most tenured, respected and decorated umpires.

To have a technique you designed named after you …

To know you designed that technique because you believe it’s the right way to do things …

To know that fundamental — and the Gerry Davis “Lockbox” stance indeed has become a fundamental — says a lot about your approach to your profession …

Put those things together and you have something fitting, something lasting. And to someone as dedicated to his profession as Davis is to umpiring, it’s not only fitting, it’s humbling and a whole lot more.

“It’s rewarding,” Davis said. “I’m very proud of it.”

This is Gerry Davis’ umpiring story, and the story isn’t just about a stance. It’s a story about achievement, consistency and commitment. It’s also a story of longevity, but more than anything, it’s a story of a guy who found the career he loved pretty much by chance, then turned it into a more successful career on and off the field than he ever dreamed possible.

Davis, 62, at his core is an umpire’s umpire and all that implies.

“He’s the consummate professional,” said MLB umpire Phil Cuzzi, a longtime member of Davis’ crew.

He’s about loyalty, and doing his job in a calm way that calms others. He’s about doing things the same way, every day.

“He takes a lot of pride in everything he does and everything his business does,” said Pat Miles, a longtime football and basketball official who worked at Appleton, Wis., based Gerry Davis Sports for nearly a decade.
He’s about the sport, first and foremost.

“He loves what he does and he’s good at it,” longtime MLB umpire Greg Gibson said. “He’s a teacher. He’s a mentor. He’s everything you’re looking for. I guess he’d be the poster boy for what a major league umpire should be.”

He’s MLB’s longest-tenured crew chief, and as MLB Director of Umpire Administration Matt McKendry said, he’s a “stabilizing force, on the field and off.”

“If we had 76 people with Gerry Davis’ skills and his abilities, we would be a very good staff,” McKendry said.

All of those things are about more than a stance — and as for that stance, we’ll get to it. Soon. Because the stance is absolutely and fittingly part of the story. It’s just not the whole story.

• • •

Before we cover stance, we’ll cover resume, and before the resume, we must explore his beginnings. Because while Davis’ career is one of accomplishment, he didn’t start out dreaming of an umpiring career.

In the mid-1970s, as Davis’ best friend tells it, Davis wasn’t dreaming of much of anything. At least not seriously. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t a particularly motivated guy. And while he and his buddies were still playing semipro baseball in St. Louis in the mid-’70s, Davis never talked about umpiring. So it surprised Don Dill when Davis told people he was heading to umpire school.

“He never really talked about it,” said Dill, Davis’ best friend since age nine.

He never much thought about it, either. Not until 1975. The manager of Davis’ semipro team at the time was responsible for providing one of two umpires for each game. When Davis injured his arm, his manager found a way to save $8 to $10 a game.

“The manager told me, ‘You’re going to be the umpire,” Davis said.

After Davis umpired a couple of games, his manager told him something else: “You should think about going to umpire school.”

Davis recalled the story with a laugh. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as umpire school,” he said. “I grew up like every red-blooded American kid wanting to be a baseball player.”

Davis, working at Thurmer’s Tavern in St. Louis, saw a Sporting News ad for the Al Somers Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla. Davis mentioned the ad to his manager, who sent for the application. Davis applied, was accepted and entered Somers’ school in 1976, a year before Harry Wendelstedt purchased the school.

“It came at a time in my life where I said, ‘Why not? I’m 22 years old,’’’ he said. “If I didn’t follow this, I didn’t want to have to look back and say, ‘What if?’’’

Davis took to umpiring. Fast. He graduated second in his class at Somers’ school, then worked the Midwest League in 1976-77 and the Eastern League in 1978. He worked the Florida Instructional League in 1977-78 and the Puerto Rico Winter League in 1979 while working the American Association from 1978-82. He was in MLB by 1984.

“At 18 or 19, he had no direction,” Dill said with a laugh. “But he was never afraid of a challenge and never afraid to try something. Out of the clear blue, he decided he was going down there. He decided he wanted to do it. He had played ball all his life, so it all went hand in hand and it turned out to be perfect.”

Davis said he doesn’t know where life would have led had he not applied to the school, but he knows his message when he tells young umpires his story.

“I tell them, ‘Follow those dreams, because you don’t want to look back and be sorry you didn’t take the chance,’’’ Davis said.





(From top) Gerry Davis uses his hands-on-knees stance during a Cubs-Giants game in 2013. Davis visits a patient at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif., in 2012 for the Umps Care charity. Davis works the NLCS in 2014.
– Photos By Bill Nichols, John Cordes –

• • •

Now, we can talk resume. That’s fun when you’re talking about Davis, because his resume moves quickly past impressive and into staggering:

  • Twenty-one postseasons, including the last 17 in succession.
  • Five World Series.
  • Ten League Championship Series.
  • Eleven League Division Series.
  • Four All-Star games.

If that sounds impressive, it’s because it is impressive. Add up the number of games in each series and it’s not surprising it totals a record for postseason games umpired — 128. Not surprising to anyone but Davis, anyway.

“It’s a little mind-boggling,” he said. “The postseason events are really what I’m most proud of. We’ve had, I’d say, seven or eight different regimes since I’ve been involved. For all of them to have the confidence in me to work postseason, it’s very rewarding.”

Cuzzi called the postseason the “litmus test,” adding, “If it was people playing favorites, it wouldn’t mean as much.

“He’s so respected not only by the league office, but the teams,” Cuzzi said.

You don’t fluke into respect. Is Davis good fundamentally? Can he call balls, strikes, safes and outs? No doubt. MLB umpires are the best of the best, and therefore, make the difficult look easy. Davis? “He makes it look really easy,” Gibson said.

But in umpiring, there’s calling the game, then there’s controlling the game — and baseball people will tell you if Davis makes the first look easy, he makes the second look doubly so.

“Things get heated between the lines,” McKendry said. “You’re supposed to be able to settle that down whenever you can. Gerry has an innate ability to do that. That calming approach he takes along with the respect clubs have for him helps him control volatile situations when they arise.

“He’s a calming influence. He’s well-respected by the clubs and his peers. He is an upstanding member of our group and we’re glad to have him.”

To hear Gibson tell it, to work a game with Davis is not only to work a game with an umpire at the height of his onfield skill, but also in control of his crew. It’s also to work a game in which the umpires are subjected to strikingly little yelling.

“They know him and respect him enough to know we’re just not going to listen to it,” Gibson said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements. He’ll let people have their say, but when that’s it, that’s it. They know that. They know what to expect as far as his ability.”

We’ve addressed the resume, the respect. What we haven’t covered are the whys and hows behind the respect. His fellow umpires say it’s about his demeanor and calmness.

Davis said his demeanor didn’t come immediately or naturally.

“It came over time,” he said with a laugh. “I was a little bit of a redass when I first started. I did my share of yelling and had my share of nose-to-nose arguments, but if you talk to players and managers now, most would say if you approach me in a professional manner, that’s the way you’ll be treated.”

The nose-to-nose stuff works for some umpires. As for Davis, he doesn’t see the job about showmanship or flash, which is why polls outlining the best/worst/favorite/least-favorite MLB umpires of players, coaches and fans rarely include Davis’ name.

That’s OK with Davis, and when he talks to people about best- and worst-umpire lists, his attitude is pretty clear.

“He says, ‘You don’t want to be on either one,’’’ Miles said.


Consistency. Talk to Davis about his approach to umpiring, you hear it. Talk to him a while longer, you hear it a lot.


So, if lists are what Davis doesn’t want to be on, and arguments are what he doesn’t want to be involved in, what does Davis want? How does he want to be known? Postseason appearances are one way, and the stance is another, of course. But mostly, it’s about a word.

“I think I’m really consistent,” he said.

Consistency. Talk to Davis about his approach to umpiring, you hear it. Talk to him a while longer, you hear it a lot.

“When people talk about umpires, they think about consistency in balls and strikes and consistently doing a good job with that,” Davis said. “But I think it’s more important to be consistent with your demeanor. I don’t get overly excited when things call for that. I think I’m very level-headed and handle situations well, which is one of the major attributes an umpire has to have.”

Consistency. Calmness. Respect from peers, from players and coaches. A staggering resume. As if those weren’t enough to leave a lasting impression on a sport and a profession, consider another part of Davis’ resume.

Davis has mentored many younger umpires, including call-ups from Triple A. Brian Knight, Quinn Wolcott, Todd Tichenor, Will Little — each is a current MLB umpire who worked on Davis’ crew before his full-time hire.

“He takes just as much pride for his crewmates to be selected for the postseason as the pride he takes in himself being selected,” Cuzzi said.

McKendry said Davis’ success with young umpires is no fluke, stemming from Davis’ approach of protecting them when they need protection and knowing when to let them “handle their own business.”

“He has a good sense for those two parts,” McKendry said. “He makes an effort to teach and lead by example.”
Gibson said life for a young umpire under Davis is rewarding. “He has a different way of teaching,” Gibson said. “Sometimes he’ll let you fall on your face and say, ‘OK, do you want to talk about it?’ But he has a way of going about his business that everybody respects. He’s not perfect by any means, but everybody knows he’s working hard toward it. And he does work hard at it.

“He leads by example. You know what to expect when you work for him. You have a good time working with him and if you don’t have a good time working for him, it’s your fault,” Gibson said.

It could be said that Davis’ work with younger umpires is leaving a legacy. While Davis is hesitant to say it that way, he said without question it’s rewarding.

“That’s the interesting thing about this profession,” Davis said. “A lot of people who have never umpired talk about how thankless the job is. That’s not really true. There are a lot of things that happen that make you proud to be an umpire.”

• • •

The legacy? The consistency? All of that also is notable when telling Davis’ story.

Something else notable is that about 15 years into his MLB career, these traits — the caring about the profession, the desire to make things better, the attention to detail, the doing things right — somehow all of that became the foundation for a profession outside his profession and intertwined with it all at the same time. And that’s pretty much how Gerry Davis Sports was born.

Davis wasn’t thrilled with plate shoes in the 1990s and had an idea for a shoe that combined safety and comfort. A market of 2,000-3,000 was too niche for larger shoe companies, so Davis approached Cove Shoe Company.


The Gerry Davis stance. the lockbox stance. the hands-on-knees stance … it is part of Davis’ legacy, but it didn’t come overnight.


Together, they designed and produced the shoe.

“They sold immediately,” Miles said, and as they did, umpires calling for shoes began asking for shin guards, chest protectors and indicators. At first, Davis didn’t have those items.

“I told them, ‘I’ll call you back,” Davis said with a laugh.

Nearly two decades later, Gerry Davis Sports supplies officials in baseball, basketball, football and softball, and Miles said the same traits that have made Davis successful on the field translate off of it.

“He believes you get one good first impression,” Miles said. “Gerry’s very much on board with that. He wants the umpire to look the best he can.”

So, now you know about Davis the businessman, and Davis the umpire. Davis the umpire is not only about doing things right, but giving back to the profession, which led to a whole lot of Gerry Davis Umpire Clinics for young umpires. And from those umpire clinics came … the stance.

The Gerry Davis Stance. The Lockbox Stance. The Hands-on-Knees Stance. It has been called all three. And it is part of Davis’ legacy, but it didn’t come overnight.

It evolved from a desire to be as consistent as possible, and it evolved from years of teaching clinics, from years of trying to help young umpires be as consistent as possible, Davis said.

“One of the things that’s most important (as an umpire) is you look at every pitch exactly the same way,” Davis said. “The way to do that is to have head height exactly the same every time. The only way you can ensure your head height is exactly the same is to have it locked in, by arms being locked on knees. That way, your head is the same height all the time. Your arms lock your head in a certain height. Those are the most important things to being a consistent plate umpire, so that’s what I started doing.”

Davis first worked with the technique in clinics, putting young umpires in their base stance, hands on knees. That achieved the objective of keeping the umpire’s head still, and also gave the umpire a consistent view from pitch to pitch. Davis soon began using it. Now, a quick Google search reveals pages upon pages of instruction, discussion and debate about the stance.

“It’s really rewarding when you hear from people who have adapted the stance, who didn’t use it before and now talk about how much more comfortable they are and how much they feel they have improved because of it,” Davis said.

Cuzzi said while its use is limited in MLB because umpires at that level grew up using a lower-crouched stance, the Davis stance has increased in popularity at other levels.

“His philosophy is very simple,” Cuzzi said. “You have to be very still in order to have the most accuracy when you call a pitch. When you talk about umpiring, you talk about consistency. To be consistent, you have to be consistent in what you’re doing to get to that point. He feels that by working with both hands on his knees, his head is at the same spot every time. We all have our own little ways, but the best way is the way that works for you. That certainly is the best way for him.”

And while the stance is best known for its effectiveness behind the plate, Cuzzi added, “If you watch him work the bases, you’ll see him do the same thing. Before he makes a call, whether it’s a play at first base, a steal at second or a trap in the outfield, he’s taking the same position: both hands on his knees, feet shoulder-length apart. It’s a very mechanical approach, but to show how consistent he is with that, he doesn’t just do it behind the plate, he does it on the bases as well.

“It may not be for everybody, but it certainly is for him,” Cuzzi said.

• • •

That’s the story of the stance, and while we’ve discussed it all — the stance, the resume, the approach, the beginnings — summing up a man so intertwined with the profession is still difficult. Maybe it’s a number we haven’t mentioned. Maybe it’s “40.”

Yes, 40. That’s the number of spring trainings for Davis.

“That’s a mindboggling number,” Davis said. “There are days, most of them actually, where it feels like 10 to 12 years ago since I started. It really has been a dream. To stay involved in a sport you love — I grew up listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck doing Cardinal games and fell in love with the sport — to be able to stay involved with it and have that be my career is really, really special.”

And as for the inevitable question: How long? When will one of MLB’s most respected presences no longer be present? Davis said he doesn’t know, but he believes he will know when he needs to know.

“It goes in cycles,” he said. “You get rejuvenated all the time. Once the holidays are over, you count the days to spring training. Obviously, when it’s September, I’m counting the days until the season is over. The thing that’s fortunate about a baseball season is there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re starting to drag, the light is the end of the season. When you’re ready to get started, the light is the beginning of the season.

“You’re constantly rejuvenated. I guess when that’s not the case, that’s when I’ll retire.”

And when that time comes, the numbers will matter less than the approach, and the stance will still be really meaningful and pretty cool. And what will matter most is he became successful by doing things his way — consistently — and by doing so, he became the poster boy for a profession he fell in love with sort of by chance.
And you can’t tell this story without mentioning that.

John Oehser is a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.

Inside Access on Gerry Davis

Favorite baseball city: St. Louis, his hometown. (Current residence: Huntington Beach, Calif.)

Best ballpark to work a game: “With so many new ones, they’re all very, very good. One of my least favorite ballparks is Wrigley Field. The dugouts are right on top of you and it’s not always good that we hear every comment in the dugout. The same reasons the fans love that ballpark are what make it difficult as an umpire’s ballpark.”

Best advice for a new official: “Work hard every day. Regardless of the score, regardless of the game, everyone sees you working. You have to work as hard in a freshman game as you would if you’re working in the seventh game of the World Series.”

Best baseball decision: “To go to umpire school in the first place. That would be what I would recommend to anyone who’s thinking about it. The worst thing to do is wonder, ‘What if?’ Because of the journey I’ve been on, the phrase is true: ‘If I can do it, anybody can do it.’”

Best part of job:
“The feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve done a good job. Just like you know when you’ve missed a call, you know when you’ve gotten it right.”

Worst part of job: “The travel. Without question. Because of replay, it’s 120 games a year now, which is enough. Still, it’s every three or four days in a different city.”

Biggest umpiring influence: “The three crew chiefs I’ve worked with: Bruce Froemming, Doug Harvey, Terry Tata.”

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

2015 NFL Rule and Procedure Changes


With the NFL season starting tomorrow here is a review of the rule changes as well as the football handling procedures.

Rule Changes

  • 3-34; 5-3-1 | Prohibits offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the offensive formation.
  • 4-8-2; 14-4-9 | Allows for enforcement of an Unsportsmanlike Conduct foul at the end of a half to be applied to the ensuing kickoff.
  • 5-1-2 | Permits clubs to assign additional jersey numbers (40-49) to linebackers.
  • 9-1-3 | Prohibits Team B players from pushing teammates into the offensive formation when Team A presents a punt formation.
  • 11-3-1-3 | Line of scrimmage for Try Kicks moved to defensive team’s 15-yard line, and defense can return any missed Try.
  • 12-2-3 | Prohibits a back from blocking a defensive player below the waist when that player is engaged above the waist by another offensive player outside the area originally occupied by the tight end.
  • 12-2-4 | Extends the prohibition for an illegal “peel back” block to all offensive players.
  • 12-2-7 | Gives the intended receiver of a pass defenseless player protection in the immediate continuing action following an interception or potential interception.
  • 15-2-4 | Adds review of the game clock on the final play of a half or overtime to the Instant Replay system.

Football Handling Procedure Changes

  • Teams will be able to supply their own footballs, but the kicking game coordinator will take custody once they have been approved by officials.
  • Before a game, two members of the officiating crew will inspect the footballs, number them and record PSI data. The footballs need to measure between 12.5 and 13.5 PSI; if they don’t, they’ll be adjusted to 13.0 PSI.
  • Ten minutes before the game, the coordinator, a member of the officiating crew and a security person will bring 24 approved game balls (12 for each team) to the on-field replay station for distribution.
  • At some games, footballs will be randomly checked at halftime and after the game, and PSI data will be recorded to determine how cold weather affects the footballs.

Softball – Front and Center


Use Angles, Compromises and Priorities to Get Best Look

By Jay Miner

The three major keys to success in the two-umpire system include a system of angles, compromises and priorities. Here’s what that means.

Angles. In the two-umpire system, the ability to obtain good angles on plays is paramount. Angle beats distance every time when covering a play. You’ll work to get an angle where all the elements of the play will be in front of you. The elements of plays usually include the ball and the fielder; often the runner and the base — and sometimes the location where all the elements come together.

When covering a play, work toward getting your best possible angle first and then continue hustling to reduce your distance to the play. The old adage, “There is a close correlation between closeness to the play and correctness of the call,” is an effective method of covering a play.

Avoid “straight-line” officiating whenever possible. Unfavorable straight-lining occurs when the ball, the runner, the fielder, the base and the umpire are all in a straight line. The umpire must work an angle to avoid straight-lining.

A good angle and a proper distance determine your proper calling position. Yet your work is far from over. Once you have arrived at your calling position be sure to focus on the vital elements of the play before announcing your decision. A good calling position from a stopped set position goes for naught if you are not focused on the proper elements of the play. You must see the essentials.

Umpires should strive to pause, read and react on every play situation and then apply “stop, set, focus, hold and call” to announce their decision.

Compromises. When two umpires are responsible for covering the entire field, your crew must cooperate by making intelligent compromises and strive to keep the field in proper officiating balance. The best way to accomplish that is by communicating and reaffirming with your partner what your intentions are, where you are and where you will be going. You can do that with good verbal communication and effective hand signals between you and your partner. Never smother a play at the expense of being out of position for any ensuing play.    

Priorities. There are two types of priorities for umpires to understand. Priority Type A in the two-umpire system is that the crewmembers focus on the more important events of the play. That is, ball-strike, safe-out, fair-foul, catch-no catch and live ball-dead ball are priority calls that require more attention and focus than whether a batter is possibly out of the batter’s box, the pitcher commits a technical infraction, a runner possibly misses a base by half an inch or whether a runner tagging up leaves a base a whisker before a caught fly ball is first touched by a fielder. Never turn away from a catch-no catch situation to view a tag-up as that is usually when the ball drops to the ground.

Priority Type B is that it is essential that both umpires of a crew decide whether the runner or the fielder has priority on every play that occurs and know when that priority may change from the offense to the defense or vice versa.

For example, the runner or runners have priority when running the bases while a batted ball is being played in the outfield and a fielder who impedes a runner’s progress has committed obstruction. Unless there is an overt infraction by a fielder, the defense cannot commit obstruction when a fielder has the ball or is in the act of fielding a batted ball in all codes and when a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball in NCAA or USSSA SP.

When obstruction occurs, the play will continue under the delayed-dead ball provisions and the umpire is to nullify the act of obstruction at the conclusion of the play by awarding bases as necessary.

Conversely, the fielder has priority when the fielder has possession of the ball or is in the act of fielding a batter ball. A runner who illegally complicates a play for a fielder has committed interference. When interference occurs, the ball is immediately dead, the offending runner is declared out and other runners are entitled to the bases reached at the time of the interference.

A player who is granted “priority” by the rules on a play becomes the privileged player and as a privileged player she is protected by the playing rules. Priority, privilege and protection are the three “P’s” of obstruction and interference to help guide umpires through difficult play situations.   

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, former assigner and rules interpreter from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 01/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Say ‘Hi’ to the New Guy


By Jon Bible

If you’re used to working on a crew with the same people from week to week, you know that you can quickly reach a comfort level. Everyone knows what to expect from each other on and even off the field.

I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of some great crews on which everyone got along well, had fun and officiated beautifully. On the flip side, I’ve been part of groups that didn’t get along so well and a couple that were dysfunctional nightmares off and on the field.

As has been written many times, a good referee is more than a penalty announcer — he is a crew chief responsible for setting the right tone and getting the best performance out of each crew member and the crew as a whole. A vital aspect of that role is handling new additions to the crew. The new member may be coming on board for one game or for longer. As officials move on and off the roster from year to year, coordinators have to balance crews in terms of years of experience, meaning that, in a given year, one or more crews might be reconstituted. Injuries, family responsibilities and other issues may lead to changes as well.

How I deal with new additions depends on whether it will be for one game or the foreseeable future. I want a temporary replacement to feel comfortable, but the substitute is not really becoming a member of our family and need not have the sense of ownership. I will telephone or email him a few days in advance, tell him we’re looking forward to working with him and make sure that he knows our plans — when we will meet for dinner, go the stadium, have our pregame and do film review, etc. If we need to meet somewhere to drive to the game site, we’ll work out the logistics of that as well.

I will also ensure that we have a more comprehensive pregame than might otherwise be the case. My attitude on pregames is that I assume each person knows his keys and position mechanics so that our focus can be on how we will communicate and intersect with each other. At the start of the year, we are very thorough because there will be rule and mechanics changes to deal with, and even if some or all of us have worked together in the past, we must refresh our memories on what we have been doing and discuss how we could do things better. But as the year wears on, we don’t go through the A-B-C’s of the kicking, running, passing game, etc. each week; instead, we concentrate on what did and did not go well last week.

When a new official joins the crew as a temporary replacement, however, we pretty much go back to the first-game type of pregame. Even though everyone in the conference or association who works each position should have the same keys and mechanics, we still need to cover things like when the referee or umpire will spot the ball, who watches whom on free kicks, which officials key which receivers when there are three or four receivers on one side, etc. To make the newcomer feel a part of things, I assign him some topic to address, same as the other crew members. I stress that if anything seems amiss on the field, I want him, just like anyone else, to stop the game if necessary and raise the question. I also ask him what he feels he needs from each of us.

My experience is that younger one-game substitutes are always going to adapt to our way of doing things because they’re too scared to do otherwise. If they haven’t been around the track that many times, they may need a bit more coaching than a veteran, but they never make waves. As for veterans, 98 percent are willing to adapt to how our crew handles things like relaying new balls in, enforcing penalties and communicating. That is as it should be, for it makes far more sense for one person to change things to accommodate six others than vice versa. On a handful of occasions, however, I have had someone come in with the attitude, “I’ve always done it this way and I’m not changing.” Then I have to decide which way to go. If it’s something minor, like how a linesman communicates with me between downs, I have generally adapted on the theory that it’s not worth giving blood over. If, on the other hand, it’s something that could really affect how we work the game, I will tell him as politely as possible (privately if feasible) that I think we need to handle things our way and that he needs to come on board. Ultimately, the referee is the final authority and on occasion must exert that authority. If the new person refuses to go along, we’ll get by as best we can and then I will take it up with the coordinator.

If the new member is joining us for the year, I think there is more of a “family” aspect involved. We are going to be together each week for several months and will have many ups and downs along the way. It is important that we get off on the right foot. In that instance, I will go further than I would with a temporary substitute and find out what I can about our new addition’s family, background, job, likes, dislikes, etc. That will help me figure out how best to integrate him into our crew given the other personalities. If he has been in the conference before, I may talk with other referees to find out what I can about him. Officials tend to be Type A personalities with healthy egos. A bunch of middle-aged folks with such attributes who are pretty well set in their ways is going to have any chance of functioning harmoniously only if each member recognizes what makes the others tick and is prepared to do some giving and taking. Those who have been together for a while will already have been through it, so the key is to figure out what must be done to accommodate the new addition. If he tends to get down on himself, we know we may need to try harder to build his confidence than we may with someone else.

When a newcomer appears, a true test of the crew chief is his ability to effectively integrate that person into the crew so everyone is immediately clicking on all cylinders. If the chief does his homework and is sensitive to the needs of everyone involved, he will almost certainly succeed. If, on the other hand, the chief takes a cavalier approach to things or is too negative, dismissive or dictatorial, the results can be disastrous.

Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the United Football League.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 01/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Eras of Our ways

Expectations for officials are changing. The contrast between how we did things years ago and now is great. A more professional approach rules the day.


By Tim Sloan

Ron Luciano, who died in 1995, was one of the classic arbiters and characters of the 1970s in professional sports. An AL umpire for 11 years, he was one of the most visible and controversial men to ever work between the foul lines. Many of the things he did in his career would make an official cringe today, but they might help us appreciate how far we’ve come.

Luciano grew up in an apartment over his parents’ restaurant in Endicott, N.Y. He was a mediocre baseball player, so he turned to football because of his size and agility, winning a scholarship to Syracuse University. While working on a math degree, he garnered All-America honors as an offensive tackle, blocking for the great Jim Brown. After four years on the injury list in pro football, he retired and tried teaching but gave that up when he realized schools had lots of children.

With zero officiating experience, he went to Al Somers’ umpire school in 1964 and, remarkably, graduated and made it to the majors in just five seasons. Once in the bigs, he shredded the code of conduct for umpires but endeared himself to fans with his talkativeness, histrionics and charm.

Boy, has officiating changed in a generation.

One thing they might question today would be Luciano’s professionalism: He bought hot dogs during the game, flew paper airplanes and had a trademark of calling runners out-out-out by pretending to rapid-fire a gun; his record was 16 shots. On “very bad days, which followed soon after very good nights,” he was known to ask catchers he trusted to help him with balls and strikes by framing the pitches that were strikes. For balance, a fellow umpire once said, “Ronnie doesn’t so much show up for a game as he arrives. He walks through both dugouts saying hello to people, talking to the fans, getting everyone in a good mood for when the game starts.”

Tom Topping umpires NCAA softball and is also the sport’s coordinator in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He says officiating today is mostly about professionalism. “I think (professionalism) has gone up several notches,” says Topping. “You have to treat it more like a business now than as an avocation or a hobby, especially in softball.

“You have to be more consistent with other umpires and more prepared for games, especially from a fitness aspect where that wasn’t stressed as much before.”

Topping includes taking responsibility for one’s actions on and off the field as a big-ticket item. That’s because officials are more likely than they once were to be recognized in public because of media coverage: You can gain as much bad press for yourself and fellow officials in the corner bar as you can at third base, something Luciano didn’t seem to see as a big concern.

In comparison to hockey or basketball referees, some might not think of umpires as needing a high level of fitness. The speed of the athletes and the arduous schedules they now work change that. In fact, Luciano retired before the 1980 season when he realized, at 290 pounds, he just couldn’t get in position like he once could to get the right angle on a play — in a four-umpire system. He thought he would be cheating players if he stuck around.

It was ironic in a way because one of the things his supervisors liked was his “good size,” which translated into a license to command the proceedings. Other former umpires like Eric Gregg and John McSherry were legendary for their girth. Gregg was fined by baseball because of his weight and the issues it created in his work. McSherry, after several scares, died in 1996, on opening day in Cincinnati, because of complications of his poor fitness. Where size was once an asset in game control, today it’s a liability. Just ask John Adams.

Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, has been assigning officials to the NCAA basketball tournament since 2008 and many would regard him as a groundbreaker in setting the specifications for the modern official.

“When I got the job in 2008,” explains Adams, “we evaluated every call by every official in the 2008 tournament. Consistently, there was a theme on missed calls of officials being out of position or not being in good position to see the play.

“One of the things we’ve worked on in our community is raising the level of officials’ fitness and our call accuracy percentage has gone up from 80 percent to as much as 90 percent in just five years.”

Adams says that some popular refereeing names don’t appear in the tournament because his evaluation is they can’t keep up with the pace of play. He has made it plain that fitness and mobility are his top two factors in deciding who will be selected to the tournament among those with suitable experience.

In Adams’ mind, the need for the stress on accuracy stems from the increased scrutiny of officials that the modern media has brought to bear. There was a time when a network basketball game might be covered by two or three cameras, supplemented by stop-action replay. Under those conditions, even if a broadcaster chose to replay a controversial call out of respect for the officials, the video evidence would often be inconclusive — remember Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception (or not?) Now that game coverage is more sophisticated and evidence of incorrect calls can circle the globe in seconds, people like Adams have gone all-in to find the best people to produce uncommon accuracy. And it starts with fitness.

A trademark of many officials in Luciano’s time was their ability to put a stamp on the game; to take charge and deal with issues before things could get ugly. Supposedly, former Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda was once a minor league pitcher. In winter league ball one season, he started chattering at the Cuban plate umpire over his concept of the strike zone. When the umpire had heard enough, he walked out to Lasorda, smiled and opened his coat to display perhaps the largest handgun Lasorda had ever seen. Their differences were immediately resolved: Effective, but not a career builder.

Management is far more important than bluster in running a game today. Luciano believed that any umpire who showed hesitation or any vulnerability was destined for a short career. They substituted iron-fisted debating skills for the lack of video evidence of their skills back then. Someone had to take charge and a lot of the officials of that era were well known for their aggressiveness. Name more than a few such personalities today. Marcia Alterman bets you can’t.

Alterman was a top-notch NCAA volleyball official before becoming the executive director of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO). In her tenure she’s seen the dynamic between first and second referee change considerably. When she started, it was like a master-slave relationship. The up official exerted a level of authority and decision-making extending to the shores of the seven seas; the down official hoped one day to be so revered.

“The culture on that getting-it-right thing really has changed,” Alterman says. “We’ve kind of mimicked other sports and gone away from ‘the first referee is always correct’ culture that we had for years.

“At the college level we’ve emphasized the get-it-right philosophy to the point where we’ve encouraged the second referee to step up when they have information to add to a play.”

In addition to creating fewer controversies in an average match, it’s created the opportunity for specialization. Volleyball officials frequently come as matched sets now, with a great play-caller up top and a great administrator and soother in front of the table, between the benches. That helps because she agrees with the others that coaches have become more fractious and difficult to deal with.

Luciano wrote that he only ever asked for help on one call in 10 years. He was blinded by the setting sun one evening on a pole-bender home run, guessed wrong and had an entire dugout disgorge on him. It was such an obvious and excusable error that the umpires’ normal phobia of appearing indecisive didn’t apply. Compare that to today.

“It’s not unusual to get together on a play maybe once a weekend,” says Mike Conlin, an NCAA baseball umpire who also supervises basketball officials for the Horizon League. “I don’t want to say it’s become the norm, but it is common.

“I think it’s happened because it’s a completely different mentality with baseball. … I think, over time, it’s become recognizable that there are pieces where it’s in everybody’s best interest to get things right.”

It isn’t that the quest for perfection has changed over the past couple of decades; it’s that people have learned to tunnel under the stone wall officials used to build around their fallibility. What’s crept in is that officials now accept that they’ll make mistakes because the games are so much more athletic. So, they’re now more willing to fess up and straighten things out, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

OK, maybe it is a sign of strength, but if these group discussions bring more focus on the officials, “Let the teams decide it,” is bound to echo from the rafters. Conlin says, “The players do decide the game. The officials in any sport work the game the way the rules committees want them officiated.”

We could probably name many people just in our own neighborhoods who would regard that as a truism. Yeah, more fouls create more whistles, but aren’t officials supposed to compensate by calling fewer fouls, or only calling them when the situation dictates? Conlin doesn’t think so.

“Twenty years ago, you could look at contact in a play and be comfortable not blowing your whistle,” Conlin said. “Now the coaches are concerned about the amount of contact in the game and it not being won and lost in the dressing room and things like that. So now, they’re asking us to call things closer.”

Conlin and Adams agree that it restores the balance of play, which had swung toward the defense under a softer approach. Adams believes the best officials call the same foul, the same way whether in the first or last minute of a game; there is no room for stepping in early and setting a standard for what they’re willing to call, then letting the players run amok for a while and then buttoning things down with the game on the line. From Adams’ viewpoint, the need for that consistency is another consequence of the increased physicality of sports today.

Adams says finding enough people who are unwavering in how they call a game is a challenge. While it might be a question of foul-calling consistency in basketball, it manifests itself differently in other sports.

Luciano made the point that the umpires of his era were defined by their strike zones. He described his as an oval. He had trouble bending down far enough to be sure on the low corners and he thought having the top of the strike zone at the armpits was only fair if the ball was out over the plate. In his time, it fell to the players to get used to each umpire’s tendencies. Today, that would be heresy. In softball, Topping says, the NCAA uses and distributes video of its umpires’ games to make sure the strike zone is the standard rectangle, no matter who has the plate. It’s important because batters are equally well-coached to know the strike zone and lay off the right pitches.

Doesn’t “calibrating” officials so much take some of the humanity out of it? Maybe, but the consensus is we should all get used to it.

Another place where uniformity has become a raison d’être is in the realm of safety, the big fish in any sport’s pond these days. Luciano despised the beanball, especially after he saw the career of Baltimore’s Paul Blair changed by a “purpose pitch” that fractured his skull. Billy Martin once declared to him while exchanging lineup cards before a doubleheader that his Rangers would pitch at the Brewers’ Robin Yount every time he came to bat — and then they did. Luciano threw Martin out of both games and then was almost fired for criticizing the light treatment he thought Martin got from the league. The way Luciano looked at it, if a pitcher could throw at a batter, why couldn’t the batter go out to settle things with the pitcher? He said there were even times he’d give the batter a head start when he charged the mound: Try to imagine reading that on the front page of the sports section today.

Safety in sports is no longer something to be settled at the whim of the participants. Neither can its requirements be sampled like a smorgasbord by the officials. Gary Whelchel knows that as well as anyone.

Whelchel is the commissioner of officials for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) and regards managing safety as paramount. He says it often involves administrating issues that have nothing to do with when the ball’s in play. In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football unless colleges found a solution to the deaths caused by head injuries. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if another president soon repeats that threat.

The AIA was one of the early experimenters with the football rule benching players whose helmet comes off during a play. The data Arizona produced was a big driver in the NFHS beefing up the rule in recent years, says Whelchel. The state has also adopted a concussion education program called the Barrow Brainbook: No player or official may participate in a contest unless they’ve passed the course with an 80 percent or better score. Safety protocols are taking no prisoners.

Being a safety-conscious official is as much about mediation and avoiding litigation as it is about determining forward progress. For Whelchel, that creates the secondary issue of finding the right observers to identify the right officials to work his state tournaments. The AIA has a policy that no official works state in consecutive years, so there’s a premium on having a good scouting program. Those observers, he explains, are often the retired, old-school people who are products of yesteryear’s successes. You have to do a lot to school them to select officials on the basis of the current requirements, which includes managing safety issues.

Whelchel says something else is the greatest threat to retaining officials. “The issue where we’re losing officials isn’t with their concerns over dealing with player safety,” he said. “Of more concern is the violence of the fans and those sorts of things that are occurring in society. They’re concerned whether somebody’s going to come up behind them or attack them out of the stands.”

Every jurisdiction, from the smallest middle school to the biggest college, has a policy of zero tolerance for intimidating referees. Nonetheless, the threat grows and the worst incidents have sometimes resulted in the deaths of officials. Whelchel says that the potential for abuse, plus an improving economy where potential officials have a better chance to find other work, has made it harder to find new officials. What did you experience the last time you were trying to replace a crewmate?

“In the past few years managers have started getting physical with umpires. A manager, or player, should never, ever, under any circumstances, touch an umpire. Throughout baseball history managers have been forbidden to touch the umpire and umpires have had a limited amount of trouble from fans. But if that barrier breaks down, and it seems to be cracked right now, umpires will start having real problems with the fans.” That wasn’t Whelchel speaking. Luciano wrote that in The Umpire Strikes Back, in 1982. Some things never change.

Do the level of preparation, scrutiny and the efforts at uniformity risk making officiating become sterile? Will there be any room for personality or flexibility? For that matter, is it even ethical to prepare for the tendencies of two teams anymore, lest we be biased?

Yes, absolutely yes. Luciano said he took up baseball “to avoid the blind dates arranged by his mother” but learned to love the game once he understood its nuances. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of the players in front of him and how it all played out made every game something new to look forward to. As the players left the field after one such game late in Luciano’s career, he wrote, “I wanted to tell them all, thanks for letting me be part of it.” Despite all the different things we’re being asked to do, it’s still about the game and we still get to enjoy it when the lights come up.

After retirement, Luciano worked briefly for NBC as a baseball color analyst. He then wrote five books about the human condition, thinly disguised as humorous reminiscences of his time in baseball. He summed it up this way: “When I started, (baseball) was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks.

“But while I was trying to answer the daily Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I was finished, there were 10 men on each side, the game was played indoors, on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”

The San Diego Chicken and artificial turf didn’t change umpiring. They merely illustrate why officiating is changing. Sport is a cultural activity and a form of entertainment. How we play games changes at the will of the participants — the fans, teams and administrators. As officials, we’re there to help deliver what they want. If we have the same passion for the game, then changing our ways to accommodate is the way to go; if we can’t handle the change, we’re welcome to move on. Whatever the case, we are still part of the solution and our leaders want us to be the best we can be.

Situation normal.

Tim Sloan, Davenport, Iowa, is a high school football, basketball and volleyball official, and former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Follow the Setter

Why It’s Important to Key on One or Two Players


By Julie Voeck

Referees need to know how to identify front-row and back-row players on both teams throughout the match. That can be challenging because each team rotates one position each time the team gains the right to serve.

Rules place limitations on what back-row players are allowed to do when playing the ball in front of the attack line in the front zone. When in the front zone, back-row players are not allowed to complete an attack hit on a ball that is completely above the height of net or participate in a completed block on a ball coming from the opponent.   

The setter is a key player on the team and is involved in nearly every play. The main responsibility of the setter is to set the second ball to the hitter, which means the setter will often be playing the ball in the front zone and often very close to the net. Since the setter may be either a back-row or front-row player, it is critical the referees know the setter’s location for each team before each rally begins. 

Illegal attacks. When a back-row setter plays a ball that is completely above the height of the net while on or in front of the attack line (in the front zone), a teammate must play the ball before it completely crosses the net or is legally touched by the opponent. As an example of that situation, when a back-row setter, on or in front of the attack line, sets a ball above the height of the net, and the ball enters into the plane of the net. If the ball is then legally touched by an opponent before it is played by the setter’s teammate, an illegal attack fault has been committed by the back-row setter. Another example includes the back-row setter, on or in front of the attack line, who tips, dumps or hits the ball across the net to the opponent while the ball is completely above the height of the net. Both of those situations result in an illegal attack.

Illegal blocks. A back-row player is also not allowed to complete a block or participate in a completed block. A common situation where a back-row setter could be at risk of committing an illegal block is when the ball is over-passed by a teammate. In that situation, the ball is passed very close to the top of the net and enters the plane of the net. When attempting to save the overpass, if the back-row setter makes contact with the ball simultaneously with an opposing blocker while she or he is reaching higher than the top of the net, the setter has committed an illegal block. Likewise, if the opponent contacts the ball first, and the ball then touches the setter, who is reaching higher than the top of the net, the setter has committed an illegal block.

How do the referees determine the location of the setter? Referees should understand common offenses and alignments used by teams. Most teams utilize an offense with either one or two setters. When a team uses one setter, the setter sets the ball from all positions in the rotation. At the beginning of each rally, the referees need to be able to quickly identify the setter, and then determine from the player alignment on the court whether the setter is in the front or back row.

When a team uses two setters, most of the time the starting position of the primary setter is in the back row. Teams may have both setters on the court at the same time. Teams may also substitute one or both setters out of the set when the setter’s position rotates from the back row to the front row. When a team uses two setters, referees need to know which player is the current setter. Often in a two-setter offense (called a 6-2), one or both of the setters either become hitters when they rotate into the front row, or one or both of the setters are substituted out of the set when their positions rotate to the front row. It is important that the referees become familiar with those substitution patterns and rotation strategies in order to quickly identify the setter positions. 

How does the referee track the setter? Watch warmups and observe the players who are setting. As first referee, when you review the lineup before going on the stand at the beginning of the match, note the starting position for each setter, then track each setter’s position before each rally. Learn common alignments so you know the starting position of the setter each time a team rotates. The second referee might also assist the first referee by providing information about the location of the setter when requested to do so.

Know each team’s setter(s) and their positions at the beginning of the match and before each rally. That will put you in the best position to track the setters throughout the match.

Julie Voeck, Milwaukee, is president of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials. She is also an FIVB international referee, NCAA Division I women’s volleyball and high school referee, and gymnastics judge.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 10/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Know Who’s Designated


At the pregame meeting, it is the plate umpire’s responsibility to review the lineup card submitted by each coach.

One of the biggest issues that has to be dealt with is the designated hitter.

In the lineup card shown, Franklin is the designated hitter. However it is not clear for whom he is hitting.

In NCAA and pro play, there is no option as the DH can only hit for a pitcher. But in NFHS play, the DH can hit for any of the other nine players, so it is imperative to know which player isn’t hitting.

Some coaches put the DH directly above the player who is not batting; in the example that would be George. Others put the player who isn’t hitting as the 10th player (Jones).

When reviewing the card, umpires should check that teams have nine or 10 players listed without duplication and that all positions are accounted for (although only the pitcher is locked into his defensive position).

Last, the umpire should announce, “Franklin is the DH hitting for Jones.” That confirms that you and both coaches are reading the card the same way.


Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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